The Tampa Bay Rays (17-14) head to Maryland today to take on the Baltimore Orioles (14-16). In their first series, the Orioles swept the Rays to open the season. The Orioles were buoyed by strong performances from their starting pitchers and held the Rays to a combined 3 runs in the whole 3-game series.
In his first start, Zach Britton (5-1, 2.63 ERA, 4.12 FIP) held the Rays to 1 run in 6 innings. This time around, however, Britton will face a very different Rays team. The Rays, who started the season 0-6, are now 3 games over .500 and just 1 game behind the division-leading Yankees -- the Yankees who sport the second-best record in the American League.
Toeing the mound for the Rays will be red hot James Shields (2-1, 2.14 ERA, 2.83 FIP), who nearly pitched 3 consecutive complete games, falling 3 outs shy. Over the last 3 games, Shields has pitched 24 innings, allowed only 2 runs, struck out 28 batters, and walked only 4.
Advanced statistics like fielding independent pitching (FIP) heavily favor Shields, who has dominated hitters lately. They also suggest both Shields and Britton have been a little lucky in the early going (in the form of high LOB percentages and low BABIPs). This game is not likely to become an 8-run slugfest, but do not be surprised to see both teams on the board.
Players to watch:
- In the wake of Jeff Niemann's recent injury and B.J. Upton's suspension (for debating a clearly blown call from umpire Chad Fairchild), the Rays have called up outfielder Brandon Guyer. The 25-year-old Guyer has been crushing the ball in Triple-A Durham, and the Rays will likely have him fill in for Upton in his absence.
- Dan Johnson will likely get the start against the left-handed Britton. Johnson has a .148 BABIP -- 3rd worst among players with at least 70 plate appearances. This makes Johnson one of the unluckiest players in the Majors. Moreover, about 22% of his balls in play have been infield pop-ups, which is uncommon even among batting pitchers. Hopefully Johnson can give the Rays some reasons to play him more tonight.
- Matt Joyce was scheduled to start against LHP Ricky Romero, before Romero was scratched from the start. The Rays may give Joyce a chance to prove he can hit the same hand tonight against Britton tonight.